Folarin Balogun of the United States celebrates after scoring against Canada during the first half of a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Look Arsenal fans; Folarin Balogun’s USMNT thunderbolt was Henry-esque

In a time shorter than it takes to clear your throat, Folarin Balogun produced a finish of such stunning simplicity that the rush to anoint as the future of both Arsenal and the USMNT began instantly.

The CONCACAF Nations League final between Canada and the USA, representing the region’s big two in the midst of Mexico’s decline, was the source of much excitement to feverish soccer fans across both countries.

But it was Balogun who laced the hustle-and-bustle occasion with the requisite quality. After checking his forward run while Gio Reyna weaved forward like a spider enjoying a mid-afternoon stroll, the striker purposefully pointed to where he wanted the pass threaded.

Reyna obliged. After shaking off the nearest defender with the studied poise of a country gentleman picking lint from his dinner jacket, Balogun wasted no time in thrashing the ball past the helpless Canada goalkeeper and into the goal. Two nil. Game over.

The USMNT performed admirably at Qatar 2022, reaching the second round and having the better of their group match against England, but goals were scarce. In Balogun, they may have found the solution before hosting the 2026 World Cup.

It was only his second start for the US; born in Brooklyn to Nigerian parents but raised in England, Balogun’s international future has been the subject of much discussion.

Although he has represented the Three Lions at under-17 and even appeared in the 2018 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, he accepted a call-up to the United States under-18 national team in August 2018 for a training camp and tournament.

Appearing in all four matches and scoring twice, he was left with a head more scrambled than a carton of eggs subjected to whisking by Jamie Oliver.

Although he would go on to make 13 appearances for England Under-21s, by October 2022 Balogun said he was open to playing for Nigeria.

However, he applied for a one-time switch to represent the United States national team last month, which was quickly approved by FIFA.

With his international future sorted, Balogun’s thunderbolt would’ve caught the attention of Arsenal supporters; Gabriel Jesus is many things, but he’s not a particularly prolific striker, while Eddie Nketiah looks destined for a squad role.

“I’m not sure [about] the discussions that are going to take place,” Balogun said when quizzed about his Arsenal future after the game.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. But I’m just committed to now; I try to stay present. I obviously want to enjoy the moment with my team and my family. What I can say is that I definitely won’t go on loan again.”

Having scored 22 goals for Reims last season, Balogun is well within his rights to offer an ultimatum to Mikel Arteta; use me or lose me.

While asking the 21-year-old to lead the line for Arteta’s title challengers from August might be a stretch, plenty would’ve hesitated before chucking William Saliba into the heart of defence at the start of last season.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. The evidence suggests Balogun is already that.

By Michael Lee

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